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Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
DUKE ORSINO Mr Barrymore. VALENTINE Mr Claremont. CURIO Mr Treby. SIR TOBY BELCH Mr Emery. SIR ANDREW AGUE-CHEEK Mr Munden. SEBASTIAN Mr Hamerton. ANTONIO Mr Cresswell. ROBERTO Mr Jefferies. FRIAR Mr Atkins. MALVOLIO Mr Liston. CLOWN Mr Fawcett. FABIAN Mr Farley. FIRST OFFICER Mr King. SECOND OFFICER Mr Lambert.
OLIVIA Mrs C. Kemble. VIOLA Miss S. Booth. MARIA Mrs Gibbs.
SCENE--A City in Illyria, and the Sea-coast near it.
WHAT YOU WILL.
ACT THE FIRST.
Enter VIOLA, ROBERTO, and two Sailors, carrying a Trunk.
Vio. What country, friends, is this?
Rob. This is Illyria, lady.
Vio. And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium. Perchance, he is not drown'd:--What think you, sailors?
Rob. It is perchance, that you yourself were saved.
Vio. O my poor brother! and so, perchance may he be.
Rob. True, madam; and, to comfort you with chance, Assure yourself, after our ship did split, When you, and that poor number saved with you, Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother, Most provident in peril, bind himself (Courage and hope both teaching him the practice) To a strong mast, that lived upon the sea; Where, like Arion on the dolphin's back, I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves, So long as I could see.
Vio. Mine own escape unfoldeth to my hope, Whereto thy speech serves for authority, The like of him. Know'st thou this country?
Rob. Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born, Not three hours travel from this very place.
Vio. Who governs here?
Rob. A noble duke, in nature, As in his name.
Vio. What is his name?
Vio. Orsino!--I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then.
Rob. And so is now, Or was so very late: for but a month Ago I went from hence; and then 'twas fresh In murmur, (as, you know, what great ones do, The less will prattle of,) that he did seek The love of fair Olivia.
Vio. What is she?
Rob. A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count That died some twelvemonth since; then leaving her In the protection of his son, her brother, Who shortly also died: for whose dear love, They say, she hath abjured the company And sight of men.
Vio. Oh, that I served that lady! And might not be deliver'd to the world, Till I had made mine own occasion mellow, What my estate is!
Rob. That were hard to compass; Because she will admit no kind of suit, No, not the duke's.
Vio. There is a fair behaviour in thee, captain; And, I believe, thou hast a mind that suits With this thy fair and outward character. I pray thee, and I'll pay thee bounteously, Conceal me what I am; and be my aid For such disguise as, haply, shall become The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke; Thou shalt present me as a page unto him, Of gentle breeding, and my name, Cesario:-- That trunk, the reliques of my sea-drown'd brother, Will furnish man's apparel to my need:-- It may be worth thy pains: for I can sing, And speak to him in many sorts of music, That will allow me very worth his service. What else may hap, to time I will commit; Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.
Rob. Be you his page, and I your mute will be; When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see!
Vio. I thank thee:--Lead me on. [Exeunt.
A Room in DUKE ORSINO'S Palace.
The Duke discovered, seated, and attended by CURIO, and Gentlemen.
Duke. [Music.] If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.---- [Music.] That strain again;--it had a dying fall: O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south, That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing, and giving odours.-- [Music.] Enough; no more; [He rises. 'Tis not so sweet now, as it was before.
Cur. Will you go hunt, my lord?
Duke. What, Curio?
Cur. The hart.
Duke. Why, so I do, the noblest that I have: O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, Methought, she purged the air of pestilence; That instant was I turn'd into a hart; And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me.
How now? what news from my Olivia?--speak.
Val. So please my lord, I might not be admitted; But from her handmaid do return this answer; The element itself, till seven years heat, Shall not behold her face at ample view; But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk, And water once a day her chamber round With eye-offending brine: all this, to season A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh, And lasting, in her sad remembrance.
Duke. O, she, that hath a heart of that fine frame, To pay this debt of love but to a brother, How will she love, when the rich golden shaft Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else That live in her!-- Away before me to sweet beds of flowers; Love-thoughts lie rich, when canopied with bowers. [Exeunt.
A Room in OLIVIA'S House.
Enter MARIA and SIR TOBY BELCH.
Sir To. What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure, care's an enemy to life.
Mar. By my troth, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier o' nights; your niece, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.
Sir To. Why, let her except before excepted.
Mar. Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order.
Sir To. Confine? I'll confine myself no finer than I am: these clothes are good enough to drink in, and so be these boots too; an they be not, let them hang themselves in their own straps.
Mar. That quaffing and drinking will undo you; I heard my lady talk of it yesterday; and of a foolish knight, that you have brought in here, to be her wooer.
Sir To. Who? Sir Andrew Ague-cheek?
Mar. Ay, he.
Sir To. He's as tall a man as any's in Illyria.
Mar. What's that to the purpose?
Sir To. Why, he has three thousand ducats a-year.
Mar. Ay, but he'll have but a year in all these ducats; he's a very fool, and a prodigal.
Sir To. Fye, that you'll say so! he plays o' the viol-de-gambo, and hath all the good gifts of nature.
Mar. He hath, indeed, all, most natural; for, besides that he's a fool, he's a great quarreller; and, but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarrelling, 'tis thought among the prudent, he would quickly have the gift of a grave.
Sir To. By this band, they are scoundrels, and substractors, that say so of him. Who are they?
Mar. They that add, moreover, he's drunk nightly in your company.